Mortimer’s Bar and Restaurant has been a conduit for music and community since 1976. The corner of Lyndale and Franklin is a busy hub for businesses. It has seen a greasy spoon, a pharmacy, a butcher shop, a convenience store, and a steak house throughout the years. Mortimer’s expanded its business by adding a music venue to help fill the void of venues in the Uptown area. It’s becoming a growing destination venue for bands and is catching the attention of local influencers. Mortimer’s has been a champion of diversity and remains focused on supporting the whole music scene in Minnesota.
“It doesn’t suit anybody to create an environment that only supports one type of fish. That’s not a diverse community. You know what I mean? You can’t only have one plant in a whole grove. It’s an ecosystem.” ~Brock Lammers
The music venue side of Mortimer’s has an interesting past. It was previously used as a fine dining steak house that had a huge fancy chandelier with this stained glass bar on the upper landing. One catch. They didn’t have a bathroom, so all the people that were coming out for steaks had to walk over to Mortimer’s and use the divey bathrooms. As you can imagine, eventually their business plan failed.
The wall separating the two rooms was knocked down. When Jasha Johnston and Carrie McCabe Johnston, who also own Nightingale, Dusty’s Bar, and Tilt Pinball Bar in Minneapolis, purchased the business in 2017, they restored the wall. Alex Walsh, a previous Cause Spirits employee, convinced the owners to utilize the room as a music venue. 10 months later, the venue was built and ready.
The vibe and decoration of the venue come from a large collection of antique photos and advertisements found in the attic. The previous owner passed away and left these treasures collecting dust. Now, displayed around the venue, the collection of old cigar ads, circus posters, and photograph clippings give the venue a perfect snow-globe of vintage and quirk.
“It still fits to the place being a like a Wisconsin somehow-still-holding-on supper club. It’s not a dive bar, but it’s not a speakeasy, and it’s not a separate club,” Alex shares.
Mark Brendal, a co-worker at Tilt, painted the bride of Frankenstein on a wall as a tribute to the classic pinball game called Monster Madness. The machine sits inside Tilt and is based on the idea of all the movie monsters going on tour as a rock band. The bride of Frankenstein is the singer, the Creature from the Black Lagoon plays sax, and Dracula plays guitar. Next to the painting around the corner sits a giant moose head that overlooks the entire venue. These iconic visuals give Mortimer’s a strange and weird combination of elements that culminate in a really cool vibe. There’s always something to see and rediscover at a show.
The most popular area to hang is the upper Oliver’s bar. The stained glass windows runway down the ceiling, with the old Oliver’s emblem behind the bar. There are cozy corners to tuck into, which become merch tables for shows. It’s also home to the infamous “breakup booth.” According to the bartenders, the tiny table has been a famed location for a lot of people breaking up. It’s quiet but still public, optimal for more serious discussions. It is also used for chess club on Sunday nights, so maybe not all the relationships that split are romantic, as it can get pretty heated during a game.
Brock Lammers and Alex Walsh have also developed a strong program of shows. They do matinees on the weekends. There’s a brunch show every month with Trash Catties that’s all-ages. They do the Twin Town Guitar student’s showcase every time they’re done with lessons. A monthly flamenco show also helps to bring in a variety of things that are open for everyone. But the bulk of their shows start at 9pm, which varies from the downtown venues, where shows typically start at 7pm and are done by 11pm. Mortimer’s is the late-night hang for music, food, and affordable drinking.
The separation of the music venue and the main bar acknowledges that not everyone may want to pay a cover to see the music. You can still go for the bar, play some pinball games, Foosball, darts, or gather in a booth with friends. This effort was made so the regulars who have been coming to Mortimer’s for 40 years weren’t alienated. The music venue doesn’t interfere with anything by being separated, while at the same time adding to the overall options for people coming to Mortimer’s.
The spirit of the venue is built on collaboration and community. Instead of seeing other businesses, bars, and venues as competitors, Mortimer’s sees them as a part of the same community that they’ve been supporting together. So, although First Avenue may have the beauty of having incubation venues and massive international market potential, they are a part of that same ecosystem.
“It’s a supportive community and learning process. I’ve learned a lot and used a lot of the same concepts and same playbook that they’ve helped develop. It’s just necessary for everybody to build upon that for a thriving music scene,” shares Brock.
That’s the pride the operators revolve around with their independently-owned locations. From the collaboration of hiring an employee at Tilt to paint a mural, to having a cook at Nightingale play in their band at Mortimer’s, to a server partnering up with a co-worker to record their music, they encourage each other and help cultivate arts within their businesses.
They also have been quick to recognize talent. The Gully Boys were guest musicians during a Bases Loaded residency. Alex was blown away and tried to start booking them whenever he could. That turned into a coveted residency run of shows and a way to aid in their development. Brock states that you can’t always tell where someone is going to go, but you can tell how a community is supporting various types of music and artists. He shares,
“I think the key is seeing ambition and drive. You can’t always tell something right away, but when you can see that someone is working hard and caring and they’re genuine, it’s hard not to support that as long as they have respect, decency, and something that they’re trying to develop.”
Looking through the diversity of shows on their calendar, it’s easy to spot the blueprint of what they do well. As bastions who try to provide space for everybody who has drive and intention, they are giving artists a voice. It’s the community pride that goes along with being a part of the much larger scene. It’s also an effort to keep music alive in Uptown, an area that has suffered some losses the past few years. As they approach their 2 year anniversary on December 27th, it’s apparent they are continuing to fill a much-needed void in our community.
Alex Walsh and Brock Lammers – Sound and Booking
For Alex Walsh, it was a huge letdown when Cause Spirits closed because he grew up in the neighborhood. When he was a kid he would go get breakfast at the Uptown Bar. Having those places around for most of his life, then close, created a huge vacant feeling in the neighborhood. When Brock Lammers helped close down the Uptown Bar, he noticed the community of people stayed around. People didn’t move and leave the area. This boiling pot of professionals has remained in the area, ready to fill the void opened by the loss of previous businesses.
Mortimer’s has become a second chance for Alex and Brock. It’s providing an immediate impact in the area where they’ve lived and worked for many years. The venue utilizes their past experiences and optimizes their current passions. As musicians and recording engineers themselves, they understand the scene and how to influence it.
Together Alex and Brock have worked to develop local bands by providing them timely residencies and gigs. They’ve seen bands at every level come through the doors. That type of experience is important in curating the right balance of genres, artists, and music in a day-to-day, month-to-month formula. By developing that system, more opportunities trickle down from national touring bands. Alex and Brock can assist by recommending local artists to the touring bands, finding similar artists to support the show. That then helps our Minnesota artists get more exposure and possible national attention. For Alex and Brock, it’s the best way to give back to a neighborhood that has had its ups and downs.
The Guest Room
Katharine Seggerman – Lunch Duchess
Lunch Duchess has performed quite a bit at Mortimer’s since the venue opened back in 2017. Katharine Seggerman has been a strong supporter of the venue and shares that the homey vibe is always there. Their recent album release for Crying For Fun was at Mortimer’s.
“It really does feel like you’re kind of family when you’re there. Everyone is really respectful of each other and welcoming, from the management to the bartenders,” Katharine states.
The combination of quality in the venue from the sound system, the management, and the caliber of acts they book, encapsulates a vibe you want to be apart of. For Katharine, that balance between just going out and having a good time to being at a show is a key factor that makes Mortimer’s the perfect venue.
In speaking about the feeling of being on the stage, she loves the ability to turn and see completely different parts of the room. There are crowds up at Oliver’s bar, people sitting in the back booths, and then an immediate group in front who are dancing. Each pocket are engaged and enjoying music in their own way. Attendees have options for how energetic or how relaxed they want to be during a performance. As a performer, she has great sight-lines to all of these areas so as to feel connected and be that center spoke to the room.
Bring lots of quarters as Mortimer’s has 6 pinball machines, 2 Foosball tables, darts, Golden Tee, Donkey Kong, and PAC-Man scattered around the bar. It’s a perfect opportunity to perfect your skills and engage with friends.
If you want to snag one of the 3 large cushy booths directly across from the stage, get there early to line up. These booths fill up fast and are the ideal spot to oversee the entire show.
The full schedule can be found here.
Music venues are the lifeblood of our community. By providing musicians the opportunity to showcase, collaborate, and experiment with their craft, venues are essential in their development. This series will continue to promote and support our local venues across Minnesota. Please see the previous articles below and go support local music. Our hope is these articles show the importance of supporting venues and places where creativity can thrive.
Pioneer Place on Fifth – St. Cloud
Sacred Heart Music Center – Duluth